Don't die in agony, 'up' the meds

Pile of pills.

Photo: Pile of pills. (Source: Shutterstock)

A Southern Cross University professor says patients – particularly the elderly – are “dying in agony” due to a lack of training for healthcare professionals.

Tweed Heads-based Professor Colleen Cartwright, who heads Southern Cross University's aged services unit, said the pain relief offered to patients nearing death was unacceptable.

She told AAP medical professionals were so concerned about over-prescribing pain medication which can kill that they instead under-prescribed, meaning people were left to die in agony.

She said proper training would allow medical professionals to prescribe the “right mix” of drugs at the right levels to keep patients alive and pain-free.

Professor Cartwright added the fear of being sued for over-prescribing was the real issue and the only way to battle it might be to instead sue for under-prescribing.

She added doing this would force a higher degree of training. The issue is of particular concern on the Tweed and Gold coasts, which have a significant elderly population.

Professor Cartwright claimed ‘dying in agony’ was “everybody’s worst nightmare'”.

“If you give the right combination of drugs and the right doses at the right intervals, you can keep a person very comfortable without in any way hastening their death,” she said.

“If there isn't an improvement in adequate pain relief at the end of life, maybe the only alternative will be to take legal action, to run a case of suing someone for inadequate pain relief,'' she said.

Professor Cartwright is looking for people with stories of inadequate pain relief as the basis for a potential court case. Contact her at